Brewing beer at home has long been a pastime of the beverage's top aficionados, but a substance unavailable for consumption was brewing inside the gut of a 61-year-old Texas man, and it was enough to make him drunk, without ever taking a sip.
A Panola College case study details the man who for five years would become inexplicably intoxicated without having a single drop of alcohol, resulting from a rare condition called auto-brewery syndrome.
"He would get drunk out of the blue – on a Sunday morning after being at church, or really, just anytime," Barbara Cordell, co-author of the study, told NPR. "His wife was so dismayed about it that she even bought a Breathalyzer."
According to the report, the man's Breathalyzer results would often raise as high as .33 to .40, roughly three times the legal limit of .08. A November 2009 incident landed him in the emergency room – on a day where he had not consumed any alcohol – where perplexed doctors found his blood alcohol concentration to be 0.37 and labeled him as a "closet drinker."
Auto-brewery syndrome literally mimics the functionality of a home brewery inside the body. An overabundance of yeast in the stomach ferments ingested carbohydrates into ethanol. Researchers found that the patient had an infection with Saccharomyces cerevisiae – commonly known as brewer's yeast – which would act up when he would eat starchy foods such as bread or sugary drinks.
The syndrome is rare and has only been observed a few times in the last three decades. It also does not discriminate against age. Researchers in 2001 observed a 13-year-old girl who exhibited similar conditions after consuming fruity drinks.
The earliest reported cases of the syndrome were found in Japan in the early 1970's. Most cases were the result of antibiotic prescriptions, which can kill bacteria in the gut leaving room for yeast to grow. The Texas man had been on antibiotic treatment after a 2004 foot surgery.